CCTV update: recording the balance

When, where, and in what circumstances it is appropriate to use CCTV monitoring is a much debated topic. An individual's rights to privacy in day-to-day life must be balanced against the potential benefits of CCTV for others. Where the balance lies was considered in two recent cases.

Authorisation for Church of England CCTV

The Church of England Commissary Court has ruled that CCTV cameras can be installed in a parish church to deter vandalism, subject to certain limitations. The Court's view was that the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice (produced under s30 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012) should be adopted by the parish church. The Code supports the lawful use of CCTV in pursuit of legitimate aims, provided it meets a pressing need, and is proportionate and effective. Here, the prevention of crime was confirmed as a legitimate aim, but the Court was clear that there is “no need for cameras to be in use during any form of service”.

The public expectation that religious devotion would remain private was given significant weight, and individuals engaged in private prayer should not be subject to inappropriate surveillance. It was also noted that “funerals and baptisms, in particular, are examples of occasions on which people are likely to be very sensitive.” Camera placement must also allow for parts of the building to be set aside for private prayer outside the scope of any camera lens.

The decision also took into account the Information Commissioner's Office CCTV code of practice, under which installing CCTV to monitor activities inside public buildings is likely to be inappropriate unless the space has a history of anti-social or problem behaviour and/or events which would be addressed by the use of cameras.

ECHR - CCTV damages granted to employees

Employees of a Spanish supermarket were awarded damages by the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) following visible and covert CCTV recording intended to investigate inconsistencies between stock levels and sales records. The applicants in the case all admitted to their involvement in theft from the business, and were dismissed on the evidence of covert CCTV footage and witness statements.

Before the ECHR, the applicants argued that the covert surveillance, put in place by their former employer, had breached their Article 8 right to respect for privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR found in favour of the applicants and awarded damages of 4000 Euros to each of them.

The Court noted that the employer had installed covert cameras to record over a prolonged period covering all working hours, without informing their employees of the surveillance. The Court was not persuaded (contrary to the Spanish national courts) that, when balancing individual employees' rights to privacy against the employer's legitimate interest in protection of its property rights, such covert surveillance was proportionate.

The decision was distinguished from the earlier case of Köpke v Germany (which related to covert CCTV surveillance of a specific supermarket employee in the workplace), in that the recording did not follow a prior substantiated suspicion of theft and was not, therefore, aimed at the applicants specifically, but at all staff indiscriminately “over weeks, without any time limit and during all working hours.”

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